Emmanuel Macron lays wreath at statue of Charles de Gaulle
Brexit has split opinion in the UK for more than half a decade, while Britain’s relationship with the EU has caused division for more than half a century. But the split with Brussels has far-reaching implications for the EU’s remaining member states, too. It is no secret the EU faces an existential crisis as it deals with the fallout of Brexit, rising euroscepticism across the continent and widespread discontent as nations deal with the devastating pandemic. A big concern going forward, particularly as Britain no longer has a seat at the table, could be the dominance of France and Germany.
And this state of affairs was arguably predicted by none other than French wartime hero Charles de Gaulle.
The figurehead of the French Resistance even boasted about it, as he told German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1963 that “Europe is France and Germany; the rest are just the trimmings”.
This could have devastating consequences for the future of the bloc as other member states have already explained how, without Britain, they could be left isolated.
Denmark frequently aligned itself with the UK and even joined the bloc on the same day: January 1, 1973.
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Charles de Gaulle said: ‘Europe is France and Germany; the rest are just the trimmings’
Social Democratic MEP Christel Schaldemose claimed Brexit is “sad” for the country, as the Danes were losing a “very, very central ally”.
Another MEP, Morten Lokkegaard of the centre-right Liberals, said the UK had been a “political big brother”.
And General de Gaulle’s comments could ring true to Baroness Gisela Stuart, who told Express.co.uk that too much power concentrated in the hands of too few states could prove problematic.
She said: “I think that the tension as you look ahead, is one between countries who have a single currency and ones who don’t.
“And while I do not expect other countries will leave, what I do expect, is that in the years to come within the European Union, there will be a new structure.
“The euro countries will have to deepen more.
“Other countries like Poland and Hungary, who are not part of the euro, might want to look at different arrangements.”
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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
She continued: “I think the next Commission will be very important to watch.
“One of the things about the next Commission and Parliament is that for the first time since the introduction of the euro, all the big offices are held by the big member states.
“This is unusual. I think there will be new tensions created by those who joined in 2004.”
General de Gaulle, as well as potentially predicting the bloc’s demise, arguably saw the UK’s unease with Brussels better than most Britons at the time.
The EEC – the precursor to the EU – was formed at the Treaty of Rome on March 24, 1957, with Belgium, West Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands making up the original six signatures.
Britain was notable by its absence but tried to gain access on two occasions.
However, General de Gaulle – who served as President of France from 1959 to 1969 – said “non” to two Prime Ministers: Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson.
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Charles de Gaulle inspects troops
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And a statement issued on behalf of the French government may appear profoundly prophetic to Brexiteers today.
It reads: “Compared with the motives that led the six [founder nations] to organise their unit, we understand for what reasons, why Britain – who is not continental, who remains, because of the Commonwealth and because she is an island, committed far beyond the seas, who is tied to the United States by all kinds of special agreements – did not merge into a Community with set dimensions and set rules.”
General de Gaulle echoed the sentiments expressed by Tony Benn decades later, in pointing out that Britain benefited from inexpensive imports from the Commonwealth and would be “forced to raise the price of her food” if the country “submitted to the rules of the six” EEC member states at the time.
The statement continued: “Britain nourishes herself, to a great extent, on food-stuffs bought inexpensively throughout the world and, particularly, in the Commonwealth.
“If she submits to the rules of the six, then her balance of payments will be crushed by ‘levies’ and, on the other hand, she would then be forced to raise the price of her food to the price level adopted by the continental countries, consequently to increase the wages of her workers and, thereby, to sell her goods all the more at a higher price and with more difficulty.”
Charles de Gaulle
Finally, he pointed out that the UK would be “isolated” within the EEC’s “costly regime” and asked: “How can it not be seen that the very situation of the pound sterling prevents the Common Market from incorporating Britain?”
The French Journal of British Studies notes that there were many on the other side of the Channel who agreed with his analysis.
In 1951, the Labour Party’s “European Unity” pamphlet argued that: “In every respect except distance, we in Britain are closer to our kinsmen in Australia and New Zealand on the far side of the world, than we are to Europe.”
Nevertheless, Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath successfully negotiated Britain’s entry into the EEC in 1972 and the UK officially joined the bloc just months later.
During the 1975 referendum on Britain’s entry, General de Gaulle’s comments resurfaced.
In a debate with fellow Labour MP Roy Jenkins, passionate eurosceptic Tony Benn argued that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was a “siege economy” designed to favour the French and harm Britain.
Regarding the surge in food prices, he added: “We have butter mountains and beef mountains because the Common Agricultural Policy was developed to benefit the French and if you read [Charles] de Gaulle’s famous veto speech, he said the CAP would be a crushing burden on the British economy.
“He never thought that Mr Heath would go on his knees and accept it.”